Richard Belzer at the Monte Carlo Television Festival on June 12, 2012, in Monaco.
(Credit: Francois Durand/Getty Images)
Richard Belzer, the comedian and actor best known for playing acid detective John Munch on several NBC crime series including "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," has died, his representative said.
He was 78 years old.
Belzer "passed away peacefully" early Sunday morning local time at his home in France, according to Eric Gardner, his representative.
Screenwriter Bill Scheft, a longtime friend of the actor, told The Hollywood Reporter that Belzer had "a lot of health problems."
Belzer was best known for his role as Detective Munch, who first appeared on the NBC series "Homicide: Life on the Street" from 1993 to 1999. He reprized that role in the telefilm "Homicide: The Movie" in 2000 and also he appeared as the celebrated detective in four episodes of "Law & Order."
Belzer reprized Munch on "Law & Order: SVU," where he became a series regular, appearing in 326 episodes between 1999 and 2016. Although his character retired in 2013, he returned for two additional episodes after his departure. .
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Like Belzer himself, Detective Munch had a conspiratorial mindset, a Jewish background, and a dry sense of humor.
His scrawny, wisecracking, bespectacled investigator eventually became one of the most recognizable cops in crime series history.
"I would never be a detective, but if I were, that would be it," he said in a recent interview with The Boomer Tube.
"The character is very much like what I would be. They write all my paranoia and my anti-establishment dissent and my conspiracy theories, so it's been a lot of fun for me. It's been a dream, really."
Throughout his career, Belzer played a detective on 11 television series, including "The Wire" and "The X-Files."
He made appearances in the comedies "30 Rock," "Arrested Development" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," and his detective Munch was even turned into a muppet in the "Sesame Street" sketch "Special Letters Unit."
In a statement posted on Wolf Entertainment's Twitter account, "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf said Belzer's Munch character was "one of the iconic characters on television."
"I first worked with Richard on the 'Law & Order'/'Homicide' crossover and I really loved the character. I told Tom (Fontana) that I wanted to make him one of the original 'SVU' characters. The rest is history," Wolf said.
"Richard brought humor and joy to all of our lives, he was the consummate professional and will be sorely missed by all."
His peers, including Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, were full of praise for their co-star.
"Goodbye my dear, dear friend," Hargitay wrote on Instagram.
"I will miss you, your unique light and unique vision of this strange world. I feel blessed to have known, loved and worked with you, side by side, for so many years."
Other fond memories came from comedians Billy Crystal, Richard Lewis and Laraine Newman, who highlighted his comedic crowd work.
"I don't think there's a comedian of our generation who doesn't cite Richard Belzer, not just as a huge influence, but as absolutely the funniest guy," said Paul Shaffer, late-night comedian and musician for David Letterman.
"Now, everyone goes up one."
From comedy to crime
Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
(Credit: Justin Stephens/NBC/Getty Images)
Despite his career in solving crimes, the Connecticut-born actor's beginnings were focused on comedy and rooted in New York City.
He appeared in the city's comedy clubs, such as Catch a Rising Star and The Improv, and was known for his unsympathetic comments on the political and social events of the time.
His most notable role came in 1974, when he starred opposite Chevy Chase in the counterculture film "The Groove Tube," which featured a compilation of skits with social commentary on 1970s television shows.
He later worked as a warm-up number for "Saturday Night Live" and appeared in a few skits in its early seasons.
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Belzer appeared in the 1980 hit film "Fame" in the role of an MC. He later starred in 1982's "Night Shift" and a year later in "Scarface" starring Al Pacino.
And in the 1990s, he appeared in the superhero series "The Flash" and "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."
Then the opportunity came in "Homicide."
The network wanted a "hunk" for the role, but filmmaker Barry Levinson cast Belzer in the role of Detective Munch after hearing him on the radio, he told the AV Club in 2010.
Belzer was a well-known conspiracy buff and wrote the book "UFOs, JFK and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe."
He also wrote several comedy books and novels, including "I Am Not A Cop!", a fictional story about a TV actor playing a detective who has to solve the disappearance of his friend.
Belzer's last credited role was in the 2016 film "The Comedian," starring Robert de Niro, in which Belzer played himself.
Law & Order Richard Belzer